Enjoying the fruits of labor year around is the goal of every gardener.
But nature gets in the way.
For people in the tropics, it is not much of a problem.
Yes, they do have the cold periods. But cool-weather loving vegetables will breeze through them.
But they do have their droughts to deal with.
That is another story.
But for us in the colder areas with snow, it is near impossible to grow vegetables in the winter, unless we find ways to extend the season.
From spring through summer, you work hard to get your garden to full bloom and you start savoring home grown vegetables and…
One night of frost.
The lush green garden will look like a war zone.
It is heartbreaking to see the whole hard work being wiped out so fast in one cold snap.
There may be other cold hardy veggies surviving.
Like onions, cabbage family and perennials.
But most of the tropical varieties, like pepper, eggplant and tomatoes, are killed with frost.
But the sad thing is beginning of the winter is not a single day thing.
Right after frost, you may enjoy a longer period of Indian summer.
Only if you care to protect the garden on that single night, you can have a longer harvest period.
Yes, You can do it.
With the help of lightweight floating row cover fabric.
Garden bed cover material is non-woven fabric made of spun-bonded synthetic fibers and permeable to air, water and sunlight. Unlike the poly covers that increases the chances of heat damage, roasting your vegetables, row covers allow ventilation.
Used as protective cover for raised garden beds, row covers can make wonders for your garden.
Using low tunnels, you can use these hoop covers to protect your garden from simple frost to heavy snow.
But you have to find the right garden cover cloth to protect the vegetables.
How to buy floating row covers?
First of all, they have to be treated with UV protection. Without it, synthetic material in the fabric will deteriorate in the harmful UV rays of sun and wouldn’t last longer than a season.
Frost blankets come in different thicknesses, that are measured in gram per square meter (gsm) or ounce per square yard (oz/sq.yd).
With increasing thickness, you get more protection from cold at the expense of sunlight.
Light transmission percentage will go down with thickness.
In the lighter side, you have 15-20gsm fabric.
This will be enough for the light frost protection around the freezing point. It permits 90% light transmission.
This type of lighter fabric can also be used for insect control in the hot summer. There isn’t much increase in the temperature with summer use, as it allows more air circulation.
You can control insect pests that damage radish, potato, greens, cabbage varieties, Swiss chard etc with light fabric.
But in flowering time, you have to take them off to allow pollination by wind and insects, unless the vegetables are self-pollinating variety.
Also, if you are into seed saving and do not want cross-pollination to keep the purity of varieties, these fabrics are good to prevent it.
In the middle, there is 40-50gsm fabric.
This will give 50% light transmission and up to -3ºC cold protection. You can protect Spinach, Strawberries, Lettuce and other vegetables with this type of fabric.
On the heavier side, comes 70gsm fabric.
This is for full winter protection in the harsh cold climates. But it allows only 30 percent light transmission and gives -5º C protection.
This type is used for overwintering root vegetables like Leeks, Onions, Carrots, Beets and others.
How to use row covers
You don’t just have to use them outdoors. You can use them inside greenhouses to give more protection from cold
.You can use many layers of them to give more cold protection, but light transmission goes down accordingly.
With vegetables with soft stems, you can just drape them as blankets on top the plants.
You can place the lightweight fabrics on top of the seedlings to deter insects from laying eggs.
But plants with projecting thick stems might damage the fabric. So they have to be used with hoop supports like PVC or metal pipes.
Put heavy objects on the edges to hold them. Burying them in soil will make them break down faster.
You can use ground staples or nails. But in heavy wind areas they can tear.
Remember, heavy snow load might collapse the hoophouse. So build your low tunnel accordingly.
How to buy row covers
Insulation blankets come in different sizes.
4 ft width is good, if you drape them on top of the plants in the bed.
If you use hoops, for 4 ft width beds, 8ft fabric would be ok.
They come in different lengths.
But you can cut them to size with scissors.
Taking care of row covers
Keeping indoors during the hot summer days will prolong their life.
Light fabrics are prone to tear. So handle with care.
In low tunnels, tighten them to the support. Otherwise, they will collapse and be damaged.
With the right row cover, you can extend your season more or even do year around gardening.
What is more fulfilling than getting the greens from your garden in the middle of the dead winter?